How to choose the right wood for your decking

Wooden decking can be a stunning addition to your garden. But which wood is best? We compare the main types of wooden decking on all the important points.
How to choose wooden decking

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Wood decking has become one of the most popular choices for outdoor living spaces. The question is: what type of wood should I use?

There are many different types of wood to choose from, and each type has its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article we will explore some of the most common types of wood for decks, including pine, cedar, oak, Iroko, Balau, Thermo wood and Siberian Larch.

Each type of decking comes with a variety of pros and cons that you need to consider before making your final decision on which to choose.

For example – Soft woods like pine are cheaper than hardwoods but they require more maintenance because they are not as durable as hardwoods.

The main points to consider when choosing wood for your decking are cost, looks, durability, maintenance and availability and environment impact.

Types of wooden decking

Amazing garden with hardwood decking

Wooden decking is broadly split in to two types – hardwood and soft wood. Woods are categorized as hardwoods or softwoods depending on their density and the amount of resin they contain.

Hardwood decking

Hardwoods require more time to grow and are generally more dense and more resistant to rot, making them better for decking. Hardwood decking is usually a little pricier up front but they will likely stay beautiful much longer without as much maintenance.

Hardwoods tend to be popular for those looking for something different and with class, and for those less price sensitive.

Softwood decking

Softwoods, which come from conifers such as pine trees and Douglas firs, have a lower density—meaning they are lighter and not good for use in construction—and come with a higher resin content meaning it dries out quicker than hardwood.

The most popular wood used for building today is cedar, which is a softwood with high resistance to rot or termite damage. Cedar has been one of the traditional favourites because it’s so inexpensive and easy to work with.

Pine is another very popular softwood which is cheaper than hardwoods but requires more maintenance because it doesn’t last as long

Softwood decking is generally less expensive but they require a lot of maintenance to keep them in good condition. They also need regular sanding, staining and sealing, so that can get costly over time.

Pressure treated

You may have heard the some wood being called pressure treated but what does this mean?

Pressure treated decking is usually soft wood decking of the types described in this article which has been put through a process to enhance its lifespan.

Pressure treated boards have been chemically soaked in water with preservatives so that they don’t rot when exposed to the elements like rainwater, moisture in soil or damp air.

Things to consider when choosing your wooden decking

Look and feel

The different types of wood all have different looks and textures. Pine, for example is a very soft wood which produces an organic look with visible grains of the natural timber it’s made from

Cedar on the other hand is harder than pine but still softer than oak or Iroko. It has a distinctive smell when you cut into it that many people find appealing.

Oak is a hard, dense wood that will last for many years and can be stained or sealed. Iroko is the heaviest of all these types with an oily finish and a very dark colour.

Thermo Wood has a smooth appearance but still provides durability as it’s made from an engineered material which makes it easier to clean than other soft woods.

Siberian larch is the lightest, with a striking silver colour and is often used for decking, cladding and fencing.

Each type of wooden decking will have different wood grain, sheen and pattern. Make sure you choose one which will compliment its surroundings or other wooden structures in the garden.

Maintenance

Decking oil applied to hardwood decking showing the rich colours and wood grain

When it comes to maintenance you need to choose your wooden decking carefully as some decking can need regular maintenance.

Soft woods like pine should be treated every year with a decking oil to maintain its appearance and ensure that the softness stays in tact.

Harder, denser woods will require less treatment but may only work well with specific types of oil. Some hardwoods will need specific treatment such as pressure treatment to prevent fungal decay.

Normal sealers and stains are out for hardwood too as they will ruin the surface of the beautiful wood.

Cost

Cost needs to be considered from a few angles to get a true measure. Most people only consider the upfront cost of the wooden decking but there are other costs to consider in the long term.

The cost of the wood itself needs to be considered and weighed against how many years it will last.

Soft woods are cheaper than hardwoods but they can only last about 25 years before rotting away while a harder, denser wood like Iroko or Balau could last over 50 years.

Cost also includes installation costs which vary depending on how hard the wood is to work with and if there are local specialists available to install it.

Soft woods like pine and cedar are the cheapest options when it comes to decking material available on the market but they will require more maintenance than hardwoods which increases their annual cost slightly.

Saying all this, hardwoods will be much more expensive over time due to their rarity and the difficulty of installation.

Weather appropriate

The wet and varied climate in the UK can make it tricky to choose the right wood decking for your home. Softwoods will need treated every 1 – 3 years to protect them from weathering.

Harder types of wood like Iroko, Balau, and Siberian Larch are more weather-resistant and will last longer in rough conditions.

Other types of wood such as Balau or Iroko will be more expensive than pine but offer better durability against severe weather conditions because their hardwood fibres make them less prone to splitting when exposed to force from elements like strong winds.

Texture

Weathered decking with rough texture and splinters

Splinters and other irregularities can develop in decking over time as the decking boards are damaged and warped by weather.

Soft woods like Pine have long grains which can result in splinters but they are great for balancing the amount of moisture absorbed by your decking material – ideal if you want to avoid drying out too quickly during colder months.

Do you want a smooth or a rougher texture?

Hardwoods can be sanded and even polished to make them very smooth. With their higher oil content and higher resistance to weathering they will keep their smooth textures for longer.

Softwoods can also be good but unless treated often they can become rough over time.

Slip resistance

All wooden decking is prone to becoming slippery.

The main causes are all related to moisture on the wood. Moisture can make the decking slippery on its own but the primary cause of slippery decking is the growth of moss and algae.

A myth is that some woods like cedar are more slip resistant than others, in fact all of them have to be treated with special products to remain slip resistant. See our complete guide to keeping your decking slip free.

You could also choose ThermoWood decks because they have been specially designed to resist slipping when wet, making it easier for people who need assistance getting around their home.

There is no clear winner in this field as all wooden decking will become slippery if not cleaned and maintained.

For lasting non slip properties you would need to go for composite decking which does not absorb water in the same way or provide pours for algae to grow. See our comparison of composite and wooden decking.

Availability

All this talk of hardwood being a great buy has probably got you excited about your luxurious Iroko decking. This could be an issue as hardwoods are notoriously difficult to get hold of in the UK and are not available in a wide range or types and styles.

This can be an issue both at the time of purchase and down the line a little as there is no guarantee you will be able to get hold of replacement planks and that if you do, they will match your current decking.

Softwood decking is widely available and made from the same wood as much of the lumber used in construction which means the huge global supply chains make it very likely to be attainable in the future.

At the time of writing there is a wood shortage in America which has meant the cost of Cedar is very inflated and availability is low.

Types of wooden decking

The most common types of wood used in decking are pine, cedar, oak and Iroko. This section will look at where they come from and their key properties.

Pine decking

Pine is the cheapest decking option with a low cost per square meter but requires regular maintenance such as sanding to keep it from splitting or decaying over time.

Pine is a plentiful, fast growing, sustainable and inexpensive timber that grows virtually anywhere. However pine is a softwood so the raw material isn’t durable which makes it prone to termites or rot.

A common solution for this problem has been treating the wood with chemicals like copper-chrome (CC), as well as Borate treatments in order to make treated Pine suitable for outdoor uses such as decking.

It’s important to note that modern day treatment methods are far safer than older ones , but there still remains some concern about toxicity of these ingredients .

The best thing about pine is that it’s one of the cheapest types of wood decking available. It has an organic look because you can see visible grains and marks in the natural timber which many people find appealing.

Cost: £15 – £18 per square meter

Cedar decking

cedar decking planks

Cedar is a popular choice for decking because it is more resistant to rot than other woods.

Cedar does not readily absorb moisture, and this makes it last longer; most carpenters estimate that cedar decking should hold up well for 15-20 years before needing any replacements.

You may need to replace your wood sooner if you live in an area with higher humidity or have shaded areas on the deck.

Cedar is a great wood to use for building decks, but it has some downsides.

You have to clean and reseal the deck every year or two, which can be expensive. Cedar gets beat up more easily than other materials like composite when furniture crosses over them often as well so that’s something else worth taking into consideration if this type of maintenance will bother you after a while.

Cedar is currently in short supply so prices are hugely inflated, putting up with the most expensive types of wood at the time of writing.

This shortage is predicted to easy later in the year so its a good idea to hold out if you are after Cedar.

Cost: £100 – £120 per square meter

Oak decking

Oak decking planks

Oak is usually comparable in price to cedar and typically costs more than pine because of its rich colour and texture which make it an attractive choice for homeowners looking for decking that will last many years without fading.

After a hundred years of growing, oak trees are dense strong trees and make an excellent choice for decking.

Oak is a durable, heavy wood that resists weather and insects which makes it great choice as a material to build decking with.

It does need more maintenance than other types of materials but oak just looks so good! And if you do have to work on it then you’ll be glad you picked this type of wood because it’s fairly easy to work with.

Cost: £55 – £60 per square meter

Iroko decking

Iroko decking planks

Iroko wood is grown in central Africa and is one of the hardest tropical hardwoods.

Iroko wood has a beautiful dark, reddish-brown colouring with black stripes making it an attractive choice for decking.

The irregular grain means that there’s no two pieces of wood from this tree that will be exactly alike which makes Iroko so unique.

Irokos durability also make it good for decks since its resistant to moisture and termites as well as being easy to maintain without needing too much attention but keep in mind that if you want to use ikoko then expect the price tag on your project to go up.

Cost: £65 – £75 per square meter

Balau decking

Balau decking boards

Yellow Balau is a beautiful, durable Malaysian hardwood that has an interlocking grain and even texture.

This wood can be found in different colours ranging from yellowish-brown to brown or pale red with reddish undertones. It’s perfect for deck construction because it’s strong, heavy and won’t splinter easily when you cut into it!

Balau is also more resistant to rot, algae and insects than most other woods so it can be a great choice for a long lasting decking area.

Balau does have some drawbacks though such as being quite expensive since its not easy to get hold of in large quantities.

If you are using Balau your project will take more time because of all the extra finishing work that needs doing after installation on account of how coarsely textured this type of wood is.

There are not many people around who know how to work with Balau, so if you go for this wood make sure to get a professional installation service as well.

Cost: £75 – £90 per square meter

Siberian Larch decking

Siberian larch is a charming wood which is essentially a variety of spruce tree found in Russia.

It starts out a deep green colour and takes on a nice silver-grey patina over time.

it’s really lightweight, which is a definite advantage when carrying it around for work or installing it yourself.

Siberian larch is resistant to most forms of rot and insects which makes it perfect for decking.

There are some drawbacks though, the first being its expense. The second is that because Siberian Larch is not common as an option for decking so you may have trouble finding someone who knows how to work with this type of wood.

Cost: £45 – £60 per square meter

Thermo wood decking

Thermo wood decking is not a type of wood but deserves its own category on this list.

Thermowood is made by heat-treating Scandinavian softwood for up to 96 hours, using a special chamber kiln. Steam helps protect the wood from splitting and becoming damaged during treatment.

Thermowood is a popular and affordable material for homeowners, developers, and manufacturers.

This eco-friendly wood has been put to use in many projects that require an eye on the environment as well as your wallet because it costs less than most hardwoods do.

Cost: £42 – £50 per square meter

In conclusion

This articles has covered the main aspects worth considering when choosing wooden decking. The type of wooden decking is a personal choice, you’ll want to consider the environment where it’s going to be used (i.e., near water), your budget, and what suits your preferences before choosing which wood type is best for you.

In general, opting for hardwoods will make you stand out and save you some work in the long run but they do come with downsides. They cost far more than soft woods and are not widely available.

Softwoods on the other hand have a shorter lifespan but are cheaper and compatible with most treatments.

If you have enjoyed this article please have a look around our website for more helpful articles on decking.

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